Rivercrest, CityPass and BARC
Most of us unwashed plebeians don't realize it, but there's a posh, mansion-filled neighborhood just off Westheimer and Gessner. And the residents of that neighborhood would like to keep it that way.
Rivercrest is a U-shaped street that hooks up with Westheimer at its two ends. The Rivercrest Homeowners Association, shaken that so much riffraff was either cruising through the neighborhood or using Rivercrest as a shortcut, petitioned to have the city abandon the street so it could be closed and, presumably, gated. (Any "shortcuts" would involve people driving to Piney Point or Bunker Hill Village, so you know you're dealing with real soccer-mom Lincoln Navigator trash.)
Signs went up last fall about the proposed change, and some people got up in arms. The city rejected the proposal in October, though, so the issue seemed settled.
Except that now the Public Works Department has a project going on that looks like it will be closing Rivercrest.
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"That to me is absolutely amazing, that some wealthy residents could actually have a street closed [that is] owned by the city of Houston," says one member of the hoi polloi who noticed the construction. "Wouldn't it be nice if everyone could close their streets for their kids to play on?"
Not to worry, says Public Works spokesman Alvin Wright. "There is no abandoning the street, there is no gated community, there is nothing like that," he says. "It may look like that now, but that's not the case at all."
The city is adding some features designed to decrease "cut-through" traffic, Wright says; to do that, it may temporarily look like the street is being closed.
In fact, Mayor Bill White, in rejecting Rivercrest's request, made it clear in a letter that street abandonments "will be rare because residents ought to be able to rely on existing street grids."
So call off the revolution — the city hasn't sold out to the privileged few (this time).
Not that they're getting any love for it. The Rivercrest Homeowners Association (which didn't return our calls) doesn't like what the city's doing.
"No matter what you do to help them, they want what they want and how they want it," Wright says.
Hey, you get rich people's hopes up with things like the Ashby high-rise, that's the price you have to pay.
Here Come the Tourists
CityPass is a program that offers packages of discount tickets to attractions in certain select cities like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Seattle.
They've now added a new city: Houston.
To which we can only say: WTF?
Susan Wilson of CityPass says the company receives lots of requests from cities eagerly seeking to take part, but this year the clear winner was Houston.
To which we can only repeat our earlier question.
Wilson says to be included a city needs, among other things, "an iconic attraction that can be found nowhere else." And Houston has the Johnson Space Center.
"A city like Denver — can you name six attractions in Denver? Can you name three?" she says. "Phoenix will probably never be a CityPass city because we need turnstiles — the things in Phoenix are things like the sun, the hiking, the golf."
But, as most Houstonians know, the only people who seem to think of Houston as a tourist city are the people who work for the visitors' bureau.
"Oh, that's the same everywhere," Wilson says. "Most locals don't realize they're in a visitor-based city. You tell them of the attractions and they'll go, 'Oh yeah, I took a field trip there in second grade.' It's pretty typical across the country — people in San Francisco don't go to Alcatraz unless they have guests coming in."
Ooooh-kay. Chicago, you have Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower. Southern California, there's Disneyland and Hollywood. Houston has NASA and...the George Ranch.
"The George Ranch is optional, though, in case you don't want to drive out there," Wilson says. "You can switch it out on a CityPass with the Health Museum if you want."
The people at the New York visitors' bureau are, we're sure, shaking in their boots.
The Friends of BARC are feeling decidedly unfriendly these days. They are highly annoyed that we reported last week that other animal-rescue groups have been complaining about BARC's cozy relationship with the city pound and FOB's alleged gaming of the system there in order to get the best dogs.
They don't seem so annoyed at themselves for not returning our phone calls seeking comment before we went to press with the item, but such is life.
"All the groups have the same goal! Get animals out of BARC, keep them alive and find them homes where they can be the loving companions that even THEY want to be!" says FOB's Tim Kinsella in an e-mail. (Or maybe we should say "Says Tim Kinsella! In an e-mail!")
Kinsella and other FOB members say the dogs they adopt out are sold for no more than $60, so there's no profit motive in getting the cute puppies that potential dog-owners pay a premium for.
We'll give him the last word, just because we just don't have enough exclamation points in our life: "We know the conditions are bad at BARC. Again, that's why we exist in the first place! We try to improve those bad conditions! And we do quite a darn good job, if I say so myself! We (and many other volunteers) work our butts off up there!"
Tales from the BBB
There are a million sad stories in the files of the Houston chapter of the Better Business Bureau. Well, maybe not a million, but there are quite a few. And here is one of them: WristbandsNOW, headquartered out in the 11000 block of Westheimer, who wouldnt return our calls.
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